Rakija 'n' Roll - a taste of the Balkans in Prague


This week visitors to Prague's Svanda Theatre are being treated to a feast of Balkan music, with the launch of a new CD by the band Gothart. It's a sound associated more with sand and sea and summer holidays on the Adriatic than Prague's grey winter. But what's unusual about this recording is that all the musicians are Czech. Radio Prague's David Vaughan asked world music expert Petr Doruzka for his impressions of the new CD - starting with the rather eccentric title "Rakija 'n' Roll".

"If you know what rakija is, then no explanation is needed. If you don't, you should try it, because it's a very strong drink, used all over the Balkans, it's made from wine grapes so it's the equivalent of Grappa or eau-de-vie in France, and it's how the Czech tourists remember - or don't remember - their visit to the Balkans."

And the band is called Gothard, which doesn't sound very Balkan. It sounds more German.

"Well yes. That's part of the history of the band, because originally they played mediaeval music, but then they discovered these very spicy kinds of music and rhythms from the Balkans, Gypsy songs, folk songs, and they moved to this area. They have been recording and researching the folk songs from the Balkans for a couple of years and they have made quite good progress in their latest CD."

Petr DoruskaPetr Doruska So tell me, what is on this CD? You mentioned traditional Balkan and Gypsy music. What's the sound?

"If you have heard some music from Bulgaria you will know there are bagpipes, there are very strange string instruments, which sound very Turkish or eastern. So this is surprising music for Central Europeans. If you check the listing of the songs you will see tunes from Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, also Armenia. So they had to study how to sing in foreign languages."

Worldwide there's a growing interest in world music, in the interaction between different musical cultures. That's hit Prague and the Czech Republic too hasn't it. This is a fairly typical example of interest in music from other cultures isn't it?

"I think you are right, it has hit Prague, but then you have different parts of the spectrum - like in Paris you have a lot of black music from Africa and here in Prague, obviously because we are closer to Eastern Europe, you can find more Gypsy or Balkan ensembles, also a lot of immigrants who have come from Bosnia. In a city where you have many Bosnian and Yugoslavian restaurants, you also have music."